‘As sweet and succulent as cherries’—Ann Patchett’s ‘Tom Lake’ reviewed

The novelist’s latest is a traditional love story—but also a story of burning, familial love
September 6, 2023
Tom Lake
Ann Patchett (RRP: £18.99)
Buy on Bookshop.org
Buy on Bookshop.org

Spring 2020 in Michigan, and Lara and Joe’s three adult daughters have returned to the family’s cherry farm to ride out the pandemic. The girls grew up hearing snippets of the story of their mother’s youth: once a promising actress, she abandoned the business after only one movie and a single season of playing Emily in a summer stock production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

Thus far, Lara has kept the details of what happened to herself. But now, their lives curtailed by lockdown and their energies focused on the back-breaking cherry picking, Lara’s girls finally convince her to tell them everything; namely plenty of details about her romance with her co-star, Peter Duke—then a newbie like Lara, but whose star would ascend as hers fell, going on to become an Oscar-winning household name.

Tom Lake is utterly delectable; as sweet and succulent as the cherries themselves. Patchett layers her dual narratives with expertise and ease; each character’s various responses to Lara’s story—her own included—allowing for a slow unfurling of themselves.

The novel is very much a love story, but the young lovers’ ardour is nothing compared to the intensity of Lara’s passion for her family. As she acknowledges early on, she can’t “pretend that all of us being together doesn’t fill me with joy. I understand that joy is inappropriate these days and still, we feel what we feel.”

This delight radiates off the page. Whatever ails you; let Tom Lake be the cure.